Synology DiskStation DS213air review

With dual NAS and Wi-Fi router functionality, great features, and a wonderful interface, the DS213air gives Apple's Time Capsule a run for its money.
Photo of Synology DiskStation DS213air

It’s a NAS, it’s a Wi-Fi router—it’s Synology’s DiskStation DS213air. This two-bay NAS also can serve as a single-band access point and provide a hotspot for wireless clients. It’s not the best-performing NAS in this class that we’ve seen from Synology (that distinction goes to the DS712+) nor does it offer great throughput speeds as a router. But with the dual-functionality, great features, and wonderful interface (provided by the DiskStation Manager (DSM) 4.1), the DS213air could give Apple’s Time Capsule a run for its money.

Specs and Design
The DS213air has a white, plastic casing that deviates from Synology’s typical black NASes. The front panel features five LEDs for device status, WLAN activity, disk status (one per disk), and power. On the back of the device is a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, the power connection, a push button to enable or disable Wi-Fi, and a K-Lock to physically secure the NAS.

The case, unfortunately, has a rather flimsy feel and is a hassle to remove to install hard disks. It’s by far the worst-designed case for a NAS from Synology I’ve tested. Adding to the poor design is the tiny Wi-Fi button. It’s hard to tell when the button is pushed in or out. The only way you can tell if Wi-Fi is enabled is if the WLAN LED lights up.

I also don’t understand why Synology didn’t create two separate LEDs on the front for LAN and WLAN. If you connect the DS213air to a network via an Ethernet cable, the WLAN LED lights up as well as when Wi-Fi is enabled. This is kind of confusing when initially setting up the NAS and you may have it hard-wired to the network before enabling wireless.

The DS213air supports two 2.5″ or 3.5″ SATA II drives (it does not include hard drives) and a maximum capacity of 8TB. As mentioned, while this is not the fastest NAS from Synology, NAS performance is still speedy courtesy of 256 MB DDR3 RAM and a 1.6 GHz processor.

As an access point, the DS213air is single-band, only supporting 2.4 GHz. The device supports 11b,g, and n. Security options include WEP and WPA/WPA2.

Setup
The DS213air ships with a quick-start guide showing device setup in five steps, including installing hard drives, connecting to a router, joining the NAS’ already-created wireless network, going into the Web-based setup, and locating the DiskStation.

Unfortunately, the guide misses necessary in-between steps, such as how to install the drives and how to enable Wi-Fi. For setup, consult the user manuals on the CD and then launch the Synology Assistant from the CD. The CD setup process includes an excellent Web assistant, which walks users through configuring the NAS and then will automatically download the latest DiskStation Manager from the web. Setup is the best yet from Synology and the DSM 4.1 software is well-designed, easy-to-use and filled with features.

To enable wireless functionality, press the Wi-Fi button on the rear panel for about three seconds, until the WLAN LED lights up. Once Wi-Fi is enabled, you can configure the NAS as an access point or hotspot by going into the Network setting in the DSM’s Control Panel.

Features
The DS213air contains all of the same excellent features in Synology’s other NASes including the DS712+. Services such as FTP, WebDAV, Backup, VPN and file sharing via File Station are all available. If that isn’t enough, users can download additional packages to extend the feature set. There are packages for installing antivirus, remotely sharing data, and for adding iTunes, web, and media server capabilities—and these are just the Synology-created packages. There are a slew of third-party packages, such as one from Asterisk, which turns the DS213air into a voice-communications server. A package from Joomla can add a content management system (CMS).  I’ve covered many of the features in our review of the DS712+, which you can check out for more detail. If anything, there are more packages available than ever to add features.

While this NAS/router combo is more targeted to home and SOHO users, the DS213air does provide advanced business features such as support VLANs and IPv6, so it’s an option for smaller businesses that need these features.

Performance
As a NAS, the DS213air gave very good performance, only beaten by Synology’s own DS712+ and the Netgear ReadyNAS Duo. The DS213air managed a Write speed of 45 MBps and 53 MBps reads—when uploading a file from a laptop wired to the same switch as the NAS.  Here’s a chart comparing other NASes in the same class to the DS213air:

NAS performance benchmark for Synology DS213air

Wireless uploads were better than I expected, because usually uploading a file of a GB or more to a NAS wirelessly is a futile exercise. Performance of course though is not as fast as with a wired connection. Wireless performance gave a Write speed of 8 MBps and a Read of 9 MBps.

Users will want to upload your largest files with a wired connection and save wireless connectivity for accessing or downloading smaller files. Streaming smaller video clips would be fine, but higher-definition video may take a bit of a performance hit, especially if you are streaming to multiple clients at the same time.

As a router, the DS213air did not perform so well. It turned in some of the lowest throughput scores we’ve tested against current dedicated, single-band routers. At 15 feet from the DS213air, throughput averaged 27 Mbps. That’s slow compared to the single-band Securifi Almond router which clocked 55 Mbps at the same distance and D-Link’s single-band DIR-605L managed 58 Mbps. Here is a chart comparing the DS213air with other single–band routers:

Router performance benchmark for Synology DS213air

Tested throughput was fine for lnternet browsing and sharing files, although clients that connect to the DS213air as an access point may find tasks such as online-gaming or watching Netflix rather slow. Those types of tasks are better with a dual-band router that supports the 5 GHz band.

A Time Capsule Competitor
You may be asking at this point, “Well if the performance isn’t great as a router, and it’s not even the best-performing consumer NAS form Synology, how can it compete with Apple’s Time Capsule?”

There are a few reasons. First of all, in a spec-by-spec comparison, the DS213air and the Time Capsule aren’t very different. Apple’s device is also a single-band router and does not support the 5 GHz band.  For storage, the DS213air beats the Time Capsule with 8TB of maximum capacity versus the Apple device’s 3TB.

Finally, you can’t compare the two as far as features—the DS213air wins hands-down. Of course, there are features such as support for virtualization and IPv6 that all users may not need, but they are included.

While the DS213air gets a few points knocked off for less-than-spectacular Wi-Fi throughput and that disappointing plastic case that’s frustrating to open, it still earns four out of five stars. For those who aren’t looking for the built-in wireless capability, the Synology DS712+, our Editors’ Choice for consumer/SOHO NASes, offers better performance and supports the same features.

More NAS Reviews:

Specifications
Device Type Expandable Home NAS
Networking Options 802.11n (2.4 GHz only)
Maximum Storage Capacity 8000 GB
Operating System Embedded Linux
Rack-mount or Standalone Standalone
Hard Disk Configuration RAID
Connection Type USB 3.0
Network Medium Wired, Wireless

Verdict
With dual NAS and Wi-Fi router functionality, great features, and a wonderful interface, the DS213air gives Apple's Time Capsule a run for its money.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc